The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kites perish by the dozen

Siliguri, Feb. 23: At a time when the bird flu panic has gripped the whole of the nation, the mysterious death of more than a dozen pariah kites in different parts of Siliguri has set alarm bells ringing.

According to the animal resource directorate, 10 kites, most of them perched on the same tree near Siliguri district hospital and some from the Pradhannagar area, were found dead this morning. 'Three more are ill,' said L.N. Banerjee, the deputy director of the directorate, who is also the member secretary of the recently-formed district monitoring committee for bird flu.

'We have no reason to link the deaths with bird flu,' Banerjee said. 'Given that so many birds have died on the same day, we are concerned, but there is no reason to panic.'

Banerjee said two of the carcasses have been sent to the divisional regional laboratory in Jalpaiguri, and four to the Regional Disease Diagnostic Centre in Calcutta. 'The reports will arrive in another two-three days. Autopsy was conducted locally on two birds, but the results were inconclusive,' he added.

From Calcutta, two birds will be sent to the Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal.

There were reports of more bird deaths in other parts of the city, a fact which, NGOs alleged, the government agencies chose to ignore.

'Our count says 14 birds were killed in different parts of the city, including Hospital More, Pradhannagar and Champasari,' Animesh Bose, the founder coordinator of the Siliguri-based NGO Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (Hnaf), said. 'We were told of a mentally challenged beggar taking away one bird from near the head post office. At Children Park, residents buried a bird.'

It was the Hnaf team that ultimately had to bury two birds when no government official showed up. 'We called the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) and animal resource directorate, but they did not pay any attention,' Bose said. 'At last, when the deputy director arrived, he said he could not do anything because of shortage in manpower and resources. Our boys, who had been working since the morning, disposed of the two carcasses, one from Biswadeep and the other near Hospital More,' he added.

While Banerjee said it was the SMC's responsibility to dispose of the carcasses, mayor Bikash Ghosh said it was the lookout of the animal resource directorate.

The forest department backed away from the scene after handing over the carcasses and sick birds from near the hospital to the animal resource directorate. 'Since a district level monitoring committee on bird flu, comprising representatives of all departments, has now been formed, it is their responsibility and not ours,' Vipin Sood, the divisional forest officer, wildlife division-I, said.

'Moreover, we have been instructed not to take any dead or sick birds to our area for burial, tests or treatment so that the wild birds in their natural habitat are not infected,' he said.

The Hnaf team today inspected the dumping ground behind Don Bosco school. 'The kites there were healthy,' Bose said. 'We found many rotten eggs dumped in the area, on which the animals and birds were feeding. Though there is no apparent link between the bird deaths and the eggs, we fear the eggs could be a source of other kind of diseases.'

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